Both of my son’s birthdays are at the end of November. Sometimes, one of the birthdays falls on Thanksgiving. When they were both toddlers, my wife and I decided to kill several birds with one stone (although the only bird killed was a turkey) by hosting Thanksgiving and combining the kids’ birthday celebrations on that day too.
Forty years later, we’re still doing it.
Over time, various family members departed from the picture in the whole circle of life thing and have been replaced with granddaughters. Life, as in sports, always has fresh faces ready to come in off the bench.
As has become the custom (Customs are always being updated) the girls stayed with us for a long weekend. Friday night we went to the opening night of Zoo Lites.
I think it is mainly a midwest event as Lincoln Park Zoo and other zoos across America’s heartland open up their zoos at night so that the public can ooh and aah at the dazzling display of colored lights decorating the confines as they shiver in the late November and December climes, that sometimes plunge into the single digits.
A hearty lot, we midwesterners be.
It was pleasant on this Friday night with temps hovering about the low 40s. No stiff wind blowing off the lake helped keep things comfortable.
We spent three hours there and asked the girls what they would like to eat afterward, figuring we could stop at a restaurant or grab some take-out food. Hot dogs and hamburgers was the response, soon shortened to hamburgers. McDonalds was on their little minds.
I was able to persuade them to accept Byron’s. They have great hot dogs, I assured them, and I’ve been told they have great burgers too. They acquiesced but not without apprehension.
There are two Byron’s locations and both are near our house so there’d be little delay in getting back home, which we all were itching to do, for comestible consumption. I drove to the one on Lawrence Avenue.
While waiting for my order, a big guy, much taller than me, came in and ordered a steak sandwich and some other go-with items.
“No more turkey and no more stuffing!” he bellowed, “I have had it!”
I turned to him and said “Really? It’s only Day One, man.”
He responded by bellowing, “No more turkey and no more stuffing! I have had it!”
Now, I can eat left-over turkey for days afterward, as long as it’s combined with stuffing and cranberry sauce. If there are sweet potatoes, that’s a bonus. However, once the sides run out and only turkey is left, I, like the gent in Byron’s, have had it.
Yet, still it comes, in the forms of croquettes and hash. After that, the remains go into the freezer where they are never touched again until sometime in the future when an ice-encrusted Tupperware container is dragged out of the back, behind the frozen brussels sprouts and okra, and gingerly chucked into the awaiting jaws of the kitchen garbage bag, which is either Glad to receive it or Hefty enough to do so.
Next year, the whole process will be repeated. Custom, you know.
By the way, the kids dug the burgers. Byron’s has gained two new fans.
Editor’s Note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was The Big Squeeze…
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Note: This recently uncovered draft was written during the summer in the Pre-Trump days when such trivial matters could command importance. That has, of course, all changed now where nothing is trivial any longer. But, for a change of pace and to give ourselves a moment or two in which to breathe the cool, crisp, un-paranoid air of yesteryear, I present this piece. Things were so much simpler back then, back before the eighth of November, a day that shall live in insanity, when some one could seriously opine thusly:
Dear friends, I’d like to talk to you today about something that has become close to my spleen, thus forcing me to vent it, so please bear with me as I prattle on about… squeezable condiment containers.
I mean, come on!
Are our modern American lives so fast-paced and jam-packed with activity that we must now resort to the seconds-saving procedure of squeezing condiments upon our repasts? The art of opening a jar lid and bottle cap as well as the handling of cutlery in a retrieve and deposit maneuver are becoming lost to the ages.
I remember a time when a person could pick up a jar, be it glass or molded plastic, of mustard and, via a rhythmical twisting of the wrist, remove the lid, place it down and in the same motion pick up a kitchen knife and plunge it into the open-mouthed receptacle where it would be skillfully pirouetted in order to scoop up a glob of the tender and tasty insides which would then be delivered with a deft plop upon its intended target and gingerly spread about in a massaging manner onto the bread, meat or object of its spicy desire.
All done in less time than it took you to read that run-on sentence.
Mr. Z always had something insightful to say…
Ketchup! Now, there was a he-man’s condiment. A newly uncapped bottle would always be quickly receptive to your touch, oozing easily out onto the area of your choice with hardly any coaxing on your part. As time went by, however, the viscous vixen would become reluctant to come rushing out, leaving your appetite wanting and your wants unrequited.
That’s when you’d have to get a little rough with it.
Grabbing the balky bottle firmly by its neck and tilting it southward, one would then give it a little slap, just a love tap or two, on its bottom. This would then be followed by some manual manipulation, i.e. a shaking of the bottle. The vibratory movements generated from the agitation assisted in inducing the flowing process.
If more prodding was needed, you’d have to up the ante. Generally, one or two sprightly whacks upon the posterior of the petulant receptacle would be enough to get the juices going so your mouth-watering desires could be fulfilled.
Sigh, gone are those days of condimentary aerobic and psycho-sexual exercise. Now it’s all sploop, splurt, and splop.
Sploop, Splurt and Splop may turn out to be the names of our next Supreme Court Justices. Ah well, as Warren Zevon said in response to being asked his advice after learning he had a short time left to live, “Enjoy every sandwich.”
With, may I add, any type of condiment you please.
Editor’s Note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was Anticipo…
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Editor’s note: While Jon’s traveling to the Arctic in search of evidence of global warming, we’re posting a few of his greatest hits…
I got you, babe…
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Dispatches from near Zihuatanejo, Mexico…
Buses around here are privately owned by the drivers, I think. At least, they are free to decorate them in any manner they wish. They can letter, usually in a Cloister Black style, names for their machines i.e. “Pirate of the Caribbean”, “El Rey de la Road”, etc.
Decals, generally of Warner Brothers cartoon characters, decorate the interior walls and the windows are covered with curtains. The curtains, often tasseled, serve two purposes. They are protection from the ever present sun and they gaily flap in the breeze that pours through the open windows as the bus speeds down the road.
The flailing curtains, combined with the music blasting from a CD player, make for a Disneylandish “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” effect. Each bus also has a sign over the door that reads “Anticipo su bajada” that we thought was rather philosophical. We had interpreted it as “Anticipate your downfall” until we realized that it actually meant “Watch your step”.
Tacos are not like the ones we are used to here in Chicago. They are tightly rolled like a tortilla-wrapped cigar filled with chicken and then fried. Often they are served in a shallow bowl of broth.
If one became hungry during the evening in the village of San Jeronomito, one could walk a few blocks in the dark (fortunately we always had our hosts Blanca or Juan to guide us) to someone’s house who had set up an impromptu restaurant.
Some tables and chairs were set out in the street or on the patio if there was one, and the bill of fare would be whatever the lady of the house felt like making that evening. Nowadays, with the plethoric availability of cell phones, one can call to find out the menu, place an order and it would be delivered! A’course, this being Mexico where clocks don’t exist (I never saw one in anyone’s home) there was no Domino’s thirty minute delivery or your money back rule. It came when it did.
We looked like ghosts…
Being pale, white-skinned gringos, we stood out in the little villages we visited with our friend Blanca. Once, she was asked by a villager, regarding us, “Where did you get them?”
In the same vein, one of Blanca’s neighbors had two little girls. I could have sworn that one of them referred to me as ‘Fanta’. The Spanish word for ghost is ‘fantasma’.
When traveling, we generally took the bus but sometimes we took a taxi. Taxi drivers, as expected, speed along mercilessly—and there ain’t no seat belts neither. There are no speed limits posted along the highway (or anywhere) so one time I peeked over at his speedometer to see how fast he was driving. Aptly, it was broken and registered nothing.
As we were walking in Zihuatanejo one day we saw a group of pigeons feasting on some sort of food spilled on the ground. My wife got closer and closer to them but still they did not scatter which was no surprise since, after all, they were pigeons. But, she got so close that she upset one of the birds so it quickly turned to move away and walked right into a tree. Slapstick works in any language.
The two books I brought along to read ended up coinciding rather ominously with what later occurred election-wise. One was “In the Time of the Butterflies” by Julia Alvarez. It was about the life and suspicious death of three sisters, “The Butterflies”, who were engaged in a revolutionary plot to overthrow the Dominican Republic dictatorship of General Trujillo in 1960.
This particular sequence resonated with me, “Dictatorships are pantheistic. The dictator manages to plant a little piece of himself in every one of us.” Our new President-elect seemed able to do just that, despite the piece he planted being obviously fallacious.
The other book I read was “Beats Me” by Maryrose Carroll. It told of the oppression of the 1950s regarding freedom of the press and speech that her husband, poet Paul Carroll, endured with regards to publishing the works of Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, et al.
Similar drumbeats are being felt these days. I hope my fears of this new regime turn out to be only paranoia.
Anticipo su bajada.
Editor’s Note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was Where I Was When the Cubs Won…
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On the day before Halloween, my wife and I left the country, leaving the holiday and the election coverage behind.
We headed off to Mexico. Long time amigos of ours, who are from Mexico and live in Chicago also have a home in a little village called San Jeronomito. It’s about a 30 minute bus ride south of Zihuatenejo, the destination of Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman in the movie “The Shawshank Redemption”.
The village looks like any Mexican village in any western film you’ve ever seen. Cement and adobe dwellings line bumpy dirt roads where burros, pigs and chickens freely roam and lean and hungry dogs skulk.
It has changed somewhat since we first visited 24 years ago. A two-lane paved road runs alongside Blanca and Juan’s house now and is filled with cars, trucks and buses racing by. There are still people riding burros and horses but they now hablan on cell phones.
We could get no reception on our American cell phones. There was also no WiFi, television or newspapers. We spent twelve days in, as Warren Zevon sang, “Splendid Isolation”.
We thought we had left Halloween behind but Mexicans have recently adopted the concept of the holiday—a way to get free candy. They dress in costume and gather at gates and doors chanting “Queremos Halloween! Queremos Halloween!” (“We want Halloween”) This is not limited to he last day in October. It carries over into the next couple of nights as well.
We were closer to the Shawshank beach than we were to…
The home of Blanca, our hostess, has a large courtyard. She decorated it with animatronic ghouls and goblins as well as moaning ghosts that traveled back and forth on wires strung between balconies. The kids would be invited in and it was like a haunted house Disneyland to them. Screams and giggles filled the night and Bubu Lubus filled their bags.
I also thought we had avoided Cubs Fever and the World Series. Our home town boys were down three games to one when we left so I was glad to escape the gloom that would befall the city. However, that night, Blanca received a phone call (her cell phone worked) from Juan, who was home recuperating from knee surgery. He told her that the Cubs had won Game 5.
We had just gone to bed but she hollered the news up to us. Just then fireworks and firecrackers began going off in this little village followed by gun shots. Cubs fans in San Jeronimito—who’da thunk it? Some heavy duty gun shots began going off right next door to us. Again and again and again. And again.
I live two miles from Wrigley Field and I had worried about the neighborhood around and near the Friendly Confines going up in flames of sports fan zealotry if the Cubs had done the impossible. Instead, I now feared possibly being a victim of celebratory gun shots in southern Mexico!
Besides a holiday getaway, the main purpose of our trip was to accompany Blanca to her mother’s grave site in Zacatula, an even smaller village a little over an hour and half (and two bus rides) away. In Mexico, the “Day of the Dead” holiday is when family members visit, clean and decorate the graves of loved ones.
We were graciously invited to stay in the home that two of Blanca’s aunts shared in Zacatula. While there, one of Blanca’s elderly uncles stopped by to visit and mentioned that he had watched the Cubs game the previous night and that the series was now even. A Cubs fan in Zacatula!
“You can watch beisbol on TV out here?’ I asked.
“Sí, if you have cable.” he responded.
A neighbor had cable TV and said she would move the TV to her doorway and we could sit on chairs outside to watch Game Seven. I thought that’d be very interesting, kinda like sitting in the bleachers.
It turned out that the cord wouldn’t reach so we were invited to drag our chairs into her bedroom and watch this penultimate game on the little TV perched atop her dresser. It was, of course, all in Spanish.
I had watched some of the games back home and had commented about the announcers thusly, “Don’t they ever shut up?” I now take that comment back as those Mexican announcers made the American ones sound like librarians.
As most of you know, it was a very exciting Game Seven with back and forth scoring complete with a rain delay before the Cubs pulled off a tenth inning victory.
So, that’s where I was when the Cubs won their first World Series in 108 years, watching it on TV in some one’s bedroom in Zacatula, Mexico. It’s a grand old game.
Viva, Mexico! Viva Cubs!
Editor’s Note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was A Cryin’ Shame…
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My wife and I (after voting early) left the country on the day before Halloween and returned home in the wee early hours of Veteran’s Day.
We spent those twelve days in various villages in Mexico. We had no access to WiFi, television, newspapers or cell phone service, so imagine our surprise when we returned to what is left of the You Ess of A.
The Cubs won the World Series and trump (I refuse to capitalize his name) was elected President. I feel like Alice after she stepped through the looking glass or a character in the pages of a Bizarro Superman comic. The world has turned upside down.
What next—a Republican being elected Mayor of Chicago? If that happens, we’ll know for sure that the Apocalypse is at hand. Have pigs been seen on wing circling the trump tower, that edifice hugging the Chicago River downtown, like an extended middle finger to the solid citizens of our city and beyond?
And then, I learned that Leonard Cohen had died, gone like a bird from a wire into the azure mystic.
Who knows what else I missed while insulated from the modern world? I was living a Warren Zevon song, “Splendid Isolation” while the country I love was being ransacked by buffoons.
I feel as if I should apologize.
I had some pleasant pastoral tales from my Mexican Hayride (any Abbott and Costello fans out there?) with which to regale my Third City readers but I’d feel silly writing about that stuff now. To those of us who think and care about things that are beyond the noses on our faces, this election is our own private 9/11.
When I first heard the election results I felt shock, then depression and finally embarrassment and shame. I was truly ashamed to be an American. But now I’m angry. I’m going to get back in shape and back to my fighting weight.
We can’t take this lying down. We can’t take this lying lying down. We can’t sit back and let our American symbols, Uncle Sam and the bald eagle be replaced by a Klansman and the dodo.
Through peaceful means and common sense we can prevent our country from sliding backwards. Right now I’m not sure what to do but my sleeves are rolled up. I’m ready to do something.
I’m seething but I will eventually calm down. But I won’t become complacent. At least I hope I won’t.
First though, I need to have Suzanne take me down to her place by the river and feed me some tea and oranges.
Editor’s Note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was The Drip Diaries…
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I like my shower.
It’s nothing fancy, just an old-fashioned shower head protruding from the wall, a good foot above my seventy two inch height, and a tap where one can adjust the temp before pulling up the plunger attachment to release the spray. It is perfect.
I cannot say the same about other showers I have had the misfortune to use in motel and hotel rooms as well as the homes of out of town friends whom I am visiting.
How do I begin my kvetching? (Can I use that term if I’m not Jewish?)
Oftimes, the problem lies with the position of the shower head. Some are positioned perfectly for someone who is not above the height of five feet. In those cases, if I wish to wash my face and hair, I have to assume a Quasimodo pose (“She gave me waw-ter.”) or just get down on my knees, praise the lord and shout “Hallelujah” like a turkey in the rain while washing the memory of the experience out of my hair a la Mitzi Gaynor.
Another drawback is the type of shower head. Some are of the sunflower design, which are akin to Chinese water torture. (I apologize for the politically incorrect terminology. Is Cheney water torture more acceptable?) On the opposite end of the spectrum, I was once in a shower where the water came rushing out like a series of tiny needles. That was one of the quickest showers I ever took.
There’s nothing like a shower…
Then there are those shower set ups that one needs a user manual and a slide rule to figure out. Some have various hoses with shower heads and different types of knobs and things to press or pull out. I feel like I have stepped naked into a facsimile of Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory.
The fact that I generally don’t wear my specs when I bathe makes it even more difficult to figure out with which bell or whistle I should be dealing. The same goes for shampoo. I can’t read the labels on the assortment of bottles found in a strange shower. At a friend’s house once, I washed my hair with what turned out to be body moisturizer.
I know what you’re thinking. When not in the comfort of my home, why don’t I forego my morning shower? I have tried but I simply cannot function without one. I’m even more useless than normal.
In fact, the absence of a morning shower is my main concern regarding the aspect of homelessness.
Ah, such a pampered life I lead. Yet, I can always find something to gripe about. To paraphrase an old blues song, if it wasn’t for hot air, I’d have no air at all…but I’d better have hot water!
Editor’s Note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was Stupid Stuff…
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